Commentary: HCD May Approve the Revised Housing Element, But I Remain Skeptical That We Can Address Our Immediate Housing Needs

Mixed Use

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – When HCD rejected the city’s housing element for failure to comply with State Housing Law, city staff worked diligently with the agency to revise the plan.  At this point, the city believes that the resubmitted Housing Element is sufficient to gain approval from HCD.

One of the key changes during this RHNA cycle is that the jurisdiction cannot simply show sites on a map, they must have “realistic” and “demonstrated” potential for redevelopment during the planning period in order to meet the housing needs.

I remain considerably skeptical on a number of points made by the city about the viability of specific sites.

For instance, and I have pointed this out a number of times, the city is relying very heavily on the downtown to fulfill both its market rate and affordable housing needs.  My problem with relying on the downtown is that the proforma presented pre-COVID showed that any projects had to be dense and for-sale in order to pencil out, and the market has gotten worse, while construction and land fees have only increased since then.

More skeptically is whether the projects could also contain affordable housing—83 of the required affordable units would be in the downtown.

Part of the problem as noted is that there is not a unitary landowner.  Moreover, the money is not necessarily there for large scale redevelopments.

While the Hibbert site drew a lot of attention during the recent approval of the Downtown Plan, and it drew pushback, there is clear owner interest in redevelopment on that site.

We should be much more skeptical of the E Street Plaza.

The city explains, “The site is anticipated to become a central gathering place and key focal point of the Downtown. When completed, the E Street Plaza could support two mixed use buildings, up to seven stories in height, surrounding a large public plaza area.”

The city continues, “The City recognizes that several of the parcels would need to be consolidated and brought under common ownership in order to take on a project of this magnitude, either as one or two new large parcels.”

Is there the will and ability to do that and built a large redevelopment mixed use building there?  And what are the chances that that could possibly occur by 2028 which is now only about five years from now?

The city in part justifies this belief on Lincoln40 which consolidated 11 parcels to build a large project and also that it has seen “redevelopment of commercial uses, including the Trackside Center, Paul’s Place, and University Commons projects, and anticipates that such trends will continue.”

While Paul’s Place was certainly a successful redevelopment, it was also an affordable housing project that utilized grants and non-profits to secure funding.

On the other hand, both Trackside, which is for sale, and University Commons, which has been scaled back to commercial only, suggest red flags when it comes to relying on infill projects to meet our immediate housing needs.

Someone criticized the HCD for requiring “the element must demonstrate that sites of equivalent size were successfully developed during the prior planning period for an equivalent number of lower-income housing units as projected for the site or unless the housing element describes other evidence to HCD that the site is adequate to accommodate lower-income housing.”

But if projects like Trackside and University Commons have been approved but not built, and other infill projects have languished, what justification is there to assume future projects like that at E Street are viable?

One of the big problems that the city faces is how to develop the required housing under the constraints of Measure J.  The city both acknowledges this constraint and attempts to minimize it.

The city responded, “While Measure J adds costs, extends processing times, and has been used to halt development projects that would convert agricultural land to urban development, it is only a constraint to meeting housing needs if the city lacks sufficient infill housing sites.”

The city added, “Had DISC passed, the City would have substantially more units to help meet the sixth-cycle RHNA. The City will need to rezone additional sites to meet the RHNA…”

But that’s exactly the problem.  DISC did not pass either time.  Can the city rezone sufficient sites to meet the RHNA requirements?

I’m skeptical that they can.  The city is running out of vacant infill sites.  The financials of redevelopment especially without RDA money are bad and getting worse.  And as we see even with viable sites where the owner wants to redevelop, there is significant neighborhood opposition to size and scale that would be economically viable.

So again, what leads the city to believe that they can develop these infill sites just because they can identify some of them on a map?

It appears that HCD is going to let the city go forward with this plan, but even the city manager has acknowledged that the next round is going to be a lot more difficult to meet without going to peripheral sites.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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16 Comments

  1. Don Shor

     the E Street Plaza could support two mixed use buildings, up to seven stories in height, surrounding a large public plaza area.”

    Is the public likely to accept multiple buildings 7-stories tall in the downtown? Are the property owners actually interested in redeveloping those properties? Or is this all just a planning fantasy?
    Given that this supposed E Street plaza isn’t even an actual proposal in concept with no proof of landowner interest, how could it possibly get planned, approved, and built within the current housing cycle?

    1. Richard_McCann

      Don S

      7 stories is the upper limit. I expect 4 story buildings will more likely be the norm. Given how poorly downtown buildings have aged I suspect the public would be more than happy to see attractive redevelopment. Many other communities have been happy with these changes.

  2. Ron Oertel

    In reference to the title, what are “our immediate housing needs”?

    In fact, what are “our housing needs” at all? (In regard to additional housing, since as you know – Davis already has lots of housing with people already living inside them. None of whom have “immediate housing needs”.)

    Is this something that’s separate (in David’s mind) from RHNA requirements?

    “Had DISC passed, the City would have substantially more units to help meet the sixth-cycle RHNA. The City will need to rezone additional sites to meet the RHNA…”

    Had DISC passed, the city would have to add substantially more housing units to meet the seventh-cycle RHNA, given that the EIR itself stated that housing needs generated by the development itself would not be met on site.

    Assuming that the state’s efforts don’t completely fall-apart, by then.

    I would guess that approximately 100% of the RHNA plans statewide are going to fail in regard to actually building the units.

    the next round is going to be a lot more difficult to meet without going to peripheral sites.

    Gee, what are all those cities along the coast (which aren’t expanding outward at all) going to do?

     

     

     

  3. Richard_McCann

    Ron O

    There is substantial evidence presented many times in this forum that there is a need for more housing. We are responsible to society, not just ourselves, and both housing prices and the number of homeless (including couch surfing UCD students) show the local need. You haven’t provided any evidence to contradict this in terms of empirical studies. Given that Yolo County was the fastest growing in the state last year (+1.8%) our local condition contradicts any claims about falling population. Your proposed solution to slam the gates to protect your own personal preferences only reveals your selfishness and lack of any larger perspective.

    1. Ron Oertel

      There is substantial evidence presented many times in this forum that there is a need for more housing.

      As noted, my question was addressed to David (and the title of his article).  So far, he hasn’t responded.

      I must have missed the “many times in this forum” that “the need for more housing” has supposedly been quantified.  Can you put forth those numbers again – assuming that this was actually put forth previously?  (Including how those numbers were derived.)

      We are responsible to society, not just ourselves, and both housing prices and the number of homeless (including couch surfing UCD students) show the local need.

      Housing prices indicate “need”?  How is that quantified?

      Please put forth some calculations (e.g., at what housing price number will “need” have been met?)

      And in regard to homeless individuals, what housing price can they afford? Please put forth a housing price number that will meet their need.

      In regard to students (and UCD’s pursuit of student enrollment growth), I recall that David himself acknowledged that this has now been addressed (in terms of current and planned construction, on-campus and off).

      You haven’t provided any evidence to contradict this in terms of empirical studies.

      I’m not putting forth any claims.  I’m just asking questions.

      It’s up to those putting forth claims to provide “empirical studies”.

      Given that Yolo County was the fastest growing in the state last year (+1.8%) our local condition contradicts any claims about falling population.

      To clarify, are you applying/limiting Yolo county statistics to Davis?  And given that these folks are moving to Yolo county from elsewhere (e.g., the Bay Area), is this what you or David are referring to as “our housing needs”?  In a state where the population has dropped for three years in a row?

      Your proposed solution to slam the gates to protect your own personal preferences only reveals your selfishness and lack of any larger perspective.

      Strange, in that I view those who advocate for proposals like DISC (and the unaddressed housing need it would create) as the “selfish” ones.

      I also view those who advocate for sprawl to accommodate Bay Area transplants as both selfish and environmentally-irresponsible.  (Actually, that goes hand-in-hand.)

      On a related note, here’s another perspective regarding RHNA requirements:

      The state’s local housing goals are nothing more than a farce

      Why is everyone so set on meeting “RHNA” standards when the evidence is very clear that it will never happen?

      https://48hills.org/2022/09/the-states-local-housing-goals-are-nothing-more-than-a-farce/
      Certainly, when folks are abandoning San Francisco for Sacramento valley sprawl, San Francisco won’t be meeting its current RHNA requirements (in terms of actually building that additional housing).  Especially Affordable/subsidized housing.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Don:  It’s pretty clear that Richard McCann was referring to a nebulous “need”, and not the RHNA requirements, themselves.  Apparently, he has no clue how to define that – based upon what he himself claimed.

          But on a related note, the article you’re referencing doesn’t show how the RHNA numbers were derived.  It just shows the “result”.

          Seems to me that Matt makes a pretty good point, below.

          And if the state (instead) expects any given city to develop/incorporate land outside of the city, maybe they should specifically state this (including which parcels they expect to see developed, number of units, percentage of Affordable housing at different levels therein, etc.)

          Even though the majority of cities near the coast aren’t expanding outward at all, but still have the same type of RHNA requirements. (In fact, one could argue that those cities are actually the focus of the state’s efforts.) But as noted, the state’s efforts are likely going to fail in most of those cities, regardless.

          I’m looking forward to an escalation of the war between the business-supported politicians, vs. the cities that they’re supposed to represent. I don’t think the state will ultimately win that war, especially if they’re simultaneously not providing sufficient funding for Affordable housing.

          By the way, any Affordable housing funds that are pursued (and used by) a given city are then not available to other cities, where the need might be greater.

        2. Matt Williams

          Don, thank you for providing the link to the REGIONAL HOUSING NEEDS DETERMINATION LETTER FROM HCD

          That letter explains how the regional housing need determination of 153,512 total units among four income categories for the entirety of the SACOG region is calculated, but it does not explain how those 153,512 total units are distributed among the individual local governments.  Where can those regional to local distribution calculation explanation be seen/obtained?

        3. Ron Oertel

          Bay Area counties don’t seem to be having much trouble complying

          I’m not going to study that list in detail (e.g., each city, draft versions that were created, etc.), but this actually supports what I noted in the first place:

          It’s possible to get housing element plans in cities more-dense than Davis is, without including land outside of those cities. This is supposedly what the state is focused on in the first place – density (not sprawl).

          And if it wasn’t possible, it’s ultimately the state that would be under pressure to approve plans. The state is not powerful enough to take on all cities throughout the state. This would result in open revolt. Even without that open revolt, I believe a “showdown” is coming, regardless (and in fact is already occurring, in regard to some cities). (It won’t be arising from a city like Davis, however.)

          But at the end of the (7?) year cycle, let’s see what actually gets built – statewide.  That’s an entirely different issue. And a hilarious one, at that.

           

  4. Matt Williams

    Someone criticized the HCD for requiring, “the element must demonstrate that sites of equivalent size were successfully developed during the prior planning period for an equivalent number of lower-income housing units as projected for the site or unless the housing element describes other evidence to HCD that the site is adequate to accommodate lower-income housing.”

    If that someone is me, then David is 100% wrong in saying Someone criticized HCD for using that standard.  To the contrary, that standard is very logical and it makes sense for HCD to use it.  However, if they do use that standard on the Housing Element reply side, they also need to use it themselves when they are using their model to calculate a jurisdiction’s RHNA Allocation.  It is a double standard to disqualify a parcel on the Housing Element reply process and not disqualify the same parcel in the RHNA Allocation calculation process.
     

     

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  5. Ron Oertel

    Kind of interesting:

    The California Association of Realtors (CAR) is sponsoring a “non-profit” “Californians for Homeownership” which has launched a lawsuit against six California cities to “enforce the requirements of RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Allocation) and housing element laws”.

    I’ve seen that CAR has significant influence with state officials, in regard to another controversial housing-related issue.  It would be interesting to explore the influence that they have, further. (And in this case, both the state and CAR are ganging-up against existing residents/cities.)

    Maybe keep that in mind the next time in regard to your “friendly local realtor”. Maybe ask him/her what they think in regard to what CAR is doing.

    https://nationalmortgageprofessional.com/news/six-california-cities-snub-affordable-housing-developments-car-fights-back

     

     

    1. Ron Oertel

      Here’s some more news showing what “California YIMBY” and the realtor-supported “Californians for Homeownership” have been up to:

      In December, a coalition of housing advocacy organizations sent Sonoma County a letter threatening a lawsuit as soon as Feb. 1, unless the county signed an acknowledgment stating it will be out of compliance with the state deadline. The organizations are YIMBY Law, Californians for Homeownership and California Renters Legal Advocacy & Education Fund.

      The coalition has sent letters to 32 jurisdictions including Sonoma County, Diggs said. None of those governments have replied to the letter, he added.

      https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/sonoma-county-outlines-new-blueprint-to-boost-housing-supply/

      I do believe that we’re only in the beginning stages of the war that these groups (together, with the state) have declared against cities and counties.

      Then again, the economy, housing downturn, and declining population might just “take care” of these groups without any active resistance.

      To some degree, I’d actually prefer if these groups were “successful” in bringing more attention to themselves. If/when that happens, it’s not difficult to envision the combined backlash they’re going to encounter. (But again, cities and counties have to band-together, rather than take this on individually.)

      I believe this may turn into a “Proposition 13” type of backlash (which probably wasn’t supported by any of the established interests, and might have also caught them off-guard). I don’t recall, as I was pretty young, then.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Looks like YIMBY Law also sued the state’s Housing and Community Development (HCD) department, as well.  So, perhaps there’s at least some division between these organizations vs. the state itself, though the lawsuit has now been suspended.

        In particular, HCD ignored the housing element law requiring the state make housing goals that will achieve a “feasible jobs-housing balance” in the SF Bay Area Region.

        https://www.yimbylaw.org/hcd

        I haven’t yet fully researched California YIMBY, so I’m not sure if YIMBY Law is a separate organization (with separate funding sources).  I may dig into the funding sources and amounts for both (along with “Californians for Home Ownership”), further. 

        Might be interesting to see if any of these organizations or those backing them contributed to political campaigns, as well (e.g., the Wieners, Newsoms, and Bontas of the political scene).

        They don’t seem to list their funding sources on their websites. (Gee, I wonder why?)

        Could it be that the “housing shortage” (in a state with a declining population for three years in a row) is a well-funded, self-interested “hoax”?  (Not withstanding the homeless population, who won’t be helped by anything these organizations do.)

        But folks, I gotta tell ya – you’re ultimately the ones who allowed these interests to arise (and have a seat at the table) in the first place. Some of you seem to assume that Democrats do no harm.

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